TBR

2017: Looking Forward

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe the holidays are already over, but I don’t think many of us are sad to say goodbye to 2016. While 2016 may have not been the best year in more ways than I care to list, as I mentioned in my year-end review post, I had an unusually strong reading year. With my first pick of 2017, Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, that trend seems to be continuing. I’m not even a third of the way through that one and I’m already in love with it. Something about Jahren’s writing and worldview remind me of my beloved M Train, so I can see it easily taking a place on my year-end favorites list. Crazy, right?

My reading goals for this year are very loosey-goosey, but I am joining a couple of challenges. For the fifth year in a row, I’ll be joining the TBR Dare (formerly known as The TBR Double Dog Dare and created and previously hosted by James), which has been taken over by Lizzy and Annabel. The general idea is to tackle your TBR by reading books exclusively from your shelves from January through March (or longer if you dare). I have about five books that I placed on hold at the library well before the new year, but aside from those I’ll be reading books I already own well through April.

This year I also decided to join Book Riot’s Retro Rereads group. I am hoping to reread at least 12 books (one per month). While I’m not going to pick them all out ahead of time, I have a few in mind: Just Kids by Patti Smith, In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, Straight Man by Richard Russo, Crooked Hearts by Robert Boswell, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant.

I’d also like to read more non-fiction this year (I only read three works of non-fiction last year, and two of those I didn’t even finish). And as someone who used to read short story collections almost exclusively, last year I didn’t read a single collection, so that needs to remedied as well.

As for blogging, my main goal is simply to blog more. I’m not sure what that will look like, but when I was doing my year-end post I realized how little I shared of this terrific reading year. I’m not going to commit to writing formal reviews of everything I read, but I definitely would like to share more, even if I’m just posting some favorite passages from what I’m reading. If you’re generally interested in keeping up with what I read outside the blog, you can also follow me on Goodreads.

So that’s it for me in a nutshell. What are your reading plans for 2017?

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2016: Looking Back

As I mentioned in my Favorite Books of 2016 post, 2016 was a fantastic year in reading for me. Honestly, I can’t remember a better year since maybe 2012. The better part of my reading year was filled with four- and five-star books, and not simply because I was being generous. At the same time, several books I expected to love didn’t make the cut. You can see everything I read this year here, but I wanted to cover a few highlights of my reading year that aren’t just about favorites:

My very favorite books of the year were Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and Commonwealth by Ann Patchett.

The book I finished too late to consider for year-end favorites was The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin. This fictional account of Truman Capote and his New York society “swans” was a delightful surprise. If you enjoyed this one, I highly recommend The Two Mrs. Grenvilles by Dominick Dunne, a fictionalized account of the story of Ann Woodward, the socialite accused of murdering her husband.

The best debut author I read was hands-down Imbolo Mbue. Behold the Dreamers, a novel about a Cameroonian family employed by a Titan of Wall Street just before the 2008 crash, is so powerful that feels like it was written by someone who has already churned out award-winning work. Unlike a lot of novels that deal with contemporary events, I can see this one becoming a book that remains relevant because Mbue seamlessly manages to integrate a timeless story about wanting a better life with current events, events that never overshadow the more intimate drama of a husband and wife’s struggles to get ahead. It got some good attention, but I don’t think it got nearly enough. I look forward to reading her next book. She will most definitely be a writer to watch.

Another book I thought deserved more attention was The Unseen World by Liz Moore. Ada Sibelius’s father, the only parent she has ever known, is beginning to lose his mind. In the midst of this crisis, she learns a family secret that sends her on a mission to learn the truth about her father. Moore never lets Ada’s story veer into melodrama, nor does she turn the eccentric Ada into a silly caricature of quirkiness. Moore is a quiet writer, developing deep, original characters without sacrificing plot. I also recommend her novel Heft.

A book from my TBR pile that made quite an impression on me was Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. I bought it used five or six years ago after browsing through the (virtual) bargain bins on Better World Books, and then I promptly  stuck it on the shelf and forgot about it, probably in favor of something new and shiny everyone was discussing. This is another debut novel, although Lawson, a Canadian, was 56 when it was published (hope for us all). It tells the story of the four Morrison children, whose parents are tragically killed in a car accident at the beginning of the book. The novel has an unreliable narrator in Kate Morrison, who has very definite ideas about how the family tragedy has shaped everything in their lives. This novel is an interesting and often quietly humorous look at how family roles and myths can lock us into patterns that may actually have nothing at all to do with what really happened.

I re-read three books this year, M Train by Patti Smith, You Remind Me of Me by Dan Chaon, and Machine Dreams by Jayne Anne Phillips. I loved every single one of these books the first time around, and I’m happy to say they remained five-star reads. Re-reading M Train was like visiting a favorite friend, and I suspect it’s a book I could re-read every year without tiring of it. In 2017 I am planning to re-read Just Kids (more on that in a forthcoming “Looking Forward” post), but I may make room for both. I originally read You Remind Me of Me in 2005, on two long plane trips to and from Las Vegas. Like Kent Haruf or Bonnie Nadzam, Chaon is one of those writers who beautifully crafts the small stories of people in the so-called flyover states. Machine Dreams was Phillips’s (probably best known for her novel Lark & Termite) debut novel, and it covers the years from WWII through Vietnam, giving us the changing face of a nation and times through the stories of family of four in small-town West Virginia.

Thirty-six of the fifty-five books I’ve read this year were by new-to-me authors. Of those books, the best surprises were All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt, and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. All My Puny Sorrows sounded like a book I would love from the get-go (because who doesn’t love books about suicide, really?), but the humor was completely unexpected. The latter two were both definitely outside my wheelhouse and were books I picked up because they were generating so much buzz with readers I trust. Mr. Splitfoot is absolutely grounded and magical at the same time, and Hunt never gives over to too much weirdness or too much explanation. A Head Full of Ghosts is supremely clever, even for those of us who aren’t horror fans, with fully realized characters and an overall interesting take on family narratives. Oh, and also an honorable mention for Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, which didn’t surprise me so much but did delight me to no end.

Thirty-one of the fifty-five books I read were by women, but only a lousy seven were by non-white authors, which is an issue I realized late in the year. To tell the truth, it makes me squeamish to count such things, though, because it makes me feel like I am patting myself on the back and congratulating myself on what a good little white person I am. That said, I realize I need to be more aware. The main thing I plan to do in 2017 is purchase books by non-white authors, so I can vote with my dollar and tell publishers what kind of books I want to see them publish. Except for books by favorite authors, when it comes to white authors I’ll probably start using the library more frequently. As much as I’d love to BUY ALL THE BOOKS, I have too many unread books right now to justify buying more unless the purchase makes a meaningful statement in some way. Given the recently announced Simon & Schuster decision to give a book contract to a white supremacist, I think voting with our wallets is more important than ever.

Only four of the books I read got two-star ratings: Siracusa by Delia Ephron, The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, and Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne. Siracusa and The Kind Worth Killing were on a lot of people’s favorites lists, but for me they both fell flat. The characters in both novels were unlikable and two-dimensional, and their motives were dumb. Still, I have to give credit where it’s due: The Kind Worth Killing had a very tightly plotted pace that kept me turning pages almost against my will. We Are Not Ourselves started out strong but quickly became a drag, as it has one of the most insufferable protagonists…and it started to get sloppy. At one point late in the novel, a main character suddenly has a sister, even though early in the novel it’s explained that he only has a brother. And Empire of the Summer Moon, a non-fiction account of the Comanche in Texas that won the Pulitzer, was shocking because it’s written from a very solid, Western, Christian, thank-goodness-the-whites-came point of view. I stopped at page 61, but up to that point the pages are flagged and underlined and marked with my notes exhorting my disbelief. Check out this little nugget: “This the fateful clash between settlers from the culture of Aristotle, St. Paul, Da Vinci, Luther, and Newton and aboriginal horsemen from the buffalo plains happened as though in a time warp–as though the former were looking back thousands of years at premoral, pre-christian, low-barbarian versions of themselves.” Because morality did not exist until Christians, y’all.

My other biggest disappointments were This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell and the third novel in the Elena Ferrante trilogy, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay. This Must Be the Place barely escaped getting a two-star rating from me because it also had an implausible situation at its core and dull characters. I loved The Hand That First Held Mine so much, I had been looking forward to this one since it was announced. And with the Ferrante, I’m not sure what happened. My Brilliant Friend was breathtaking, but the longer the story went on in the third novel, the more it felt like listening to a friend who has a creep of a partner who makes her miserable but whom she refuses to leave. However, the books are interesting from a sociological standpoint, and Ferrante is very good at putting a reader right in the moment without succumbing to melodrama.

In other sort of bookish news, I finally finished The Gilmore Girls, including A Year in the Life. I’m not going to give away any hints about the ending, but I will say I found it kind of disappointing. Seasons 2-4 remain my favorite, and ultimately my favorite character will always be Emily.

I’ll be back soon with a look forward at all the bookish plans I have for 2017. Happy New Year to you all!

Freestyle Friday

Hey Everybody, welcome to the second edition of Freestyle Friday, where I ramble about things that interested me during the week. Let’s get the ball rolling:

  • I am trying, yet again, to get back on a routine running program by following RunKeeper‘s Sub 65-Minute 10K Program. This program starts slowly and helps to build speed and endurance. I’m excited but I also know that I can easily get in my own way. Besides work and just plain laziness, I will sometimes avoid running in neighborhoods around my house because I’m afraid people I know will see me. (This is the exact opposite of my husband, who hopes that everyone we know will see him tearing down the street.) I thought I was the only one who felt this way, but this week I found this on the Mileposts blog: “I’m Embarrassed to Go Running.” I am not alone! Now I need someone to write an “I’m Embarrassed to Lift Free Weights in front of Meatheads at the Gym” post and I’ll be good to go. If you’re interested, you can read a bit more about my struggles with running here.
  • Eddie Izzard, people:

VISCO: Eddie, you do so much.  Would you say you’re superhuman?

IZZARD: Not superhuman. Actually, it’s that all humans can do more than they think they can do. So I think we can all actually be more superhuman than we think we can. 

  • Interesting article on the pressure authors face to get out and promote their books: “The Demands of Book Promotion: Frivolous or Necessary?” I know a lot of bloggers want to help authors as much as they can, but I also notice that quite often I will see a of of bloggers posting about the same book at the same time. Promotion and enthusiasm seems less organic than it was in 2009 when I started this blog, which makes me wonder if as bloggers we are overlooking authors who are less adept at promotion (or who are with a small press with a small budget.) Then again, part of book blogging is joining the conversation, so if we aren’t posting about the book-of-the-moment, we might risk people losing interest. Thoughts? Is this less true for “niche” bloggers who deal with specific genres, markets, or themes? Is it true at all?
  • Okay, this one probably deserves a full post, but I’ll mention it anyway: an opinion piece in the Washington Post about putting warning labels on books. Because I am currently reading The People in the Trees, which graphically features adults in precarious relations with children, I am divided. At the moment I think  maybe for books that feature up-close-and-personal trauma, maybe it’s a good idea? But then, who decides? Warning labels feel like a slippery slope to banning books. I don’t want to see that happen. I’m worried that labels take the responsibility off the individual, but then should readers have to closely research every potential book? I’m going to stop before I really get going…
  • If you’re a serious Mad Men fan like I am, then here’s a post about the Burger Chef restaurant where they filmed this week’s closing shot. Only one more episode this season. I can’t stand it that this show is ending.

Mad Men Burger Chef

  • But speaking of shows, we saw several previews during Orphan Black for In the Flesh and my husband suggested we watch the first season. We only watched the first season of The Walking Dead and am not generally a zombie fan, but we’re enjoying In the Flesh. Anyone else watching?
  • For fun, I thought I would show you all the books I added to my wishlist* this week (I am pretty sure this relates directly to my trouble with the TBR):

The Three, by Sarah Lotz

We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay

Finding Florida, by T.D. Allman

The Divorce Papers, by Susan Krieger

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, by Francine Prose

Off Course, by Michelle Huneven

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, US friends! Enjoy the long weekend if you get one!

*All book links are Kindle versions on Amazon. One click and any one of them could be mine! Links are unaffiliated, by the way. If you buy one, I bear no responsibility and receive no profit.

Challenged

To start, I had this blog post mostly written and then I did some magic with the keyboard and the first draft disappeared. So it has been that kind of day/week/month/year. I am so ready to see 2012 out (Bye bye now. Please do hit yourself on the ass with the door on your way out.) and welcome 2013. (Actually, I cannot believe I just said that. Now I am sure to get struck by lightening or something on January 2.) This year has been, shall we say, challenging. But lately I feel like I need the kind of relief the turn of a clock or a calendar page can bring. I know so, so many people who feel this way because they’ve had a really tough year.

The harder things get, the harder I get on myself, and the more things seem to stand still. The thought struck me this afternoon that I am overwhelmed with “shoulds”: I should eat better, I should exercise more often, I should run longer/faster, I should read more, I should write every day, I should eat out less and cook more meals at home, I should stand up every ten minutes so that I won’t have a shortened life span, I should write a review of that book, I should call so-and-so, I should be more social, and on and on and on.

There is a big difference between “I should” and “I want to,” and somewhere over the last year, things I used to want to do have started to feel like “shoulds.” In this case, a smarter person would probably not add to her list of things to accomplish. But I am a pragmatic optimist. The best thing to do, sometimes, is to give yourself a stern talking to and own up to what you want.

Long-Awaited reads month buttonI haven’t been posting regularly, but one of the things that has made life the last month or so a bit more tolerable is this blog. Being a part of the book blogging community here and on Twitter serves as a reminder to stay in touch with something I love: books. It was in that spirit I decided to hook up with Ana and Iris and a bunch of other great bloggers for Long-Awaited Reads Month in January 2013. It was also in that spirit today that I signed up for The TBR Double Dog Dare hosted by C.B. at Ready When You Are, C.B. Last year I committed to read eight books from my TBR list by April 1, excluding book club books. Given my current reading pace, I’m planning to stick with eight books this year. If I get through more, then that’s just a bonus. (Full disclosure: Last year I also signed up for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012, and I failed miserably. I think almost every book I read this summer with a few exceptions was a new book. Yeah. I SHOULD have read my own books, but I WANTED to read new books. See how I made that work?)

Another thing I was thinking of was perhaps putting together a re-reading group or challenge, if anyone is interested. I have a lot of books that I should want to re-read, but never get the chance. I have no button, I have no page (I could easily put one together), and I don’t want to pressure anyone, obviously. But if, like me, you are hankering to re-read some old favorites and you haven’t been able to get to it, then this could be our chance. Any takers? Let me know in the comments if you’re interested. (I think I have about ten readers, so if you join and fail to complete the challenge, hardly anyone would know! That’s an upside! Going for the hard sell here!)

Let the Games Begin…in January, Anyway

To kick off my return to blogging, I decided that joining a challenge or two might be a good idea. Now, if you ever visited me here a few years back, you know that I tend to be a miserable failure when it comes to challenges. This year, I am determined to read more of my own books. My TBR list is no smaller than it was a over a year ago when I took what became an extended break from blogging (not from reading! never!). In fact, with the addition of my Kindle to the mix, the list has only gotten longer. So, with the TBR in mind, I decided to join the following challenges:

The TBR Double Dare: (Hosted by C.B. James of Ready When You Are, C.B.) From January 1 to April 1, only read books from your existing (as of January 1) TBR pile. The only outside books allowed are book club books and books that were on the library hold list prior to January 1. I’ve committed to reading eight books from my TBR stack…that’s if I can keep myself from filling up my library holds list before January 1 with everything from these year-end lists I keep reading. Must…maintain…control.

So as not to distract myself from the TBR (by, say, reading eight books and then pretending I’ve made a huge dent), I’m joining another TBR challenge, the aptly named Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2012, (hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block) to help me be accountable for the rest of the year. I’m entering at the Mt. Vancouver level, which is 25 books (and yes, my eight from the TBR Double Dare do count) because I am a wimp easily distracted unpredictable when it comes these things.

I plan to post a page with my TBR list, so you can see what I have to tackle. Wish me luck. I am going to need it!

Updated to add credit to the hosts of these challenges!

TSS: Fun with TBR Lists

sunsalon1Just a short post today, because I have to get working on my NaNoWriMo project. When I am not thinking about plot and characters or worrying about how I will reach my word-count goal (in a meaningful way), I like to think about my reading plans for next year. I keep a notepad next to my computer, and throughout the week I jot down the names of books I read about online that look interesting. Yesterday I decided to put everything in a spreadsheet (what? procrastinating on NaNoWriMo? me?), and here’s what I found: I currently have 179 titles on my TBR wishlist, which consists of books I do not own. Scratch that: I have 179 fiction titles on my TBR list. I haven’t created the non-fiction spreadsheet yet!

As for my actual, physical TBR piles: I have several stacks of unread or partially-read books around the house, so I decided to count those as well. I have 82 unread books here at home–again, this is only the fiction–waiting for me to read them. That’s 261 titles, total!

I like to think of ways to tame the TBR list. The most obvious thing to do, of course, is to stop adding books, to keep the list under control. The problem is, at the end of six years, I would probably find that there were at least 261 interesting books released in the six years I was not adding books, so I would be right back where I started. The other thing I could do is apply the 50-page rule with a vengeance: if I pick up a book and it doesn’t grab me after 50 pages, I stop reading and strike it from the list. The only problem with that is I tend to be moody about my book choices, and I have ended up loving books upon the second read that I hated the first time around. Perhaps I could just move the title to the bottom of the list and give it another chance?

Another problem I have is how to choose which books from the TBR list to read. Should I print out the titles cut them up, and pull them out of a hat? Should I print a wallpaper-sized version of the list and throw darts? Blindfold myself, spin around and play “pin the tail on the TBR”? Ask an objective third party to choose?

Hm. Maybe I am procrastinating, just a little bit. But tell me, how do you tame your TBR? Or do you even try?

TBR: Civil War Reads

Please forgive my silence this past week, but I’ve been in some sort of posting purgatory. I finally, finally finished Gone with the Wind. The only book that took me longer to read than this one (at least from memory) was Robert Caro’s first book about Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power (which I highly recommend if history or poilitics interest you), for much the same reasons: I found myself spending more time thinking about and talking about the book than actually reading it. In fact, even though I haven’t even begun to gather my thoughts for my final post on Gone with the Wind, I’ve already started to pull together a list of books about the Civil War that I’d like to read–ahem, in my spare time.

Nonfiction

confedinatticConfederates in the Attic, by Tony Horwitz. I’ve already put this on hold at the library. This somewhat kooky book will hopefully help relieve a bit of the drama hangover I have from Gone with the Wind.

Synopsis: “When prize-winning war correspondent Tony Horwitz leaves the battlefields of Bosnia and the Middle East for a peaceful corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he thinks he’s put war zones behind him. But awakened one morning by the crackle of musket fire, Horwitz starts filing front-line dispatches again this time from a war close to home, and to his own heart.

Propelled by his boyhood passion for the Civil War, Horwitz embarks on a search for places and people still held in thrall by America’s greatest conflict. The result is an adventure into the soul of the unvanquished South, where the ghosts of the Lost Cause are resurrected through ritual and remembrance.

In Virginia, Horwitz joins a band of ‘hardcore’ reenactors who crash-diet to achieve the hollow-eyed look of starved Confederates; in Kentucky, he witnesses Klan rallies and calls for race war sparked by the killing of a white man who brandishes a rebel flag; at Andersonville, he finds that the prison’s commander, executed as a war criminal, is now exalted as a martyr and hero; and in the book’s climax, Horwitz takes a marathon trek from Antietam to Gettysburg to Appomattox in the company of Robert Lee Hodge, an eccentric pilgrim who dubs their odyssey the ‘Civil Wargasm.’

Written with Horwitz’s signature blend of humor, history, and hard-nosed journalism, Confederates in the Attic brings alive old battlefields and new ones ‘classrooms, courts, country bars’ where the past and the present collide, often in explosive ways. Poignant and picaresque, haunting and hilarious, it speaks to anyone who has ever felt drawn to the mythic South and to the dark romance of the Civil War.”

 

 

april1865April 1865: The Month That Saved America, by Jay Winik. I saw this at the book store. I did not buy it. Aren’t you proud of me?

Synopsis: “One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee’s harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln’s assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in the South, and finally, the start of national reconciliation.

In the end, April 1865 emerged as not just the tale of the war’s denouement, but the story of the making of our nation.

Jay Winik offers a brilliant new look at the Civil War’s final days that will forever change the way we see the war’s end and the nation’s new beginning. Uniquely set within the larger sweep of history and filled with rich profiles of outsize figures, fresh iconoclastic scholarship, and a gripping narrative, this is a masterful account of the thirty most pivotal days in the life of the United States.”

 

 

 

 

repubofsufferThis Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust. I love the personal view behind this one. The Atlanta History Museum does a good job with bringing the personal to bear on the public in this same manner, I think.

Synopsis: “More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in the American Civil War. An equivalent proportion of today’s population would be six million. In This Republic of Suffering, Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed not only individual lives but the life of the nation, describing how the survivors managed on a practical level and how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with its belief in a benevolent God. Throughout, the voices of soldiers and their families, of statesmen, generals, preachers, poets, surgeons, nurses, northerners and southerners come together to give us a vivid understanding of the Civil War’s most fundamental and widely shared reality.”

 

 

 

 

battlecryBattle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, by James M. McPherson. I picked this because as a solid history, because Shelby Foote’s trilogy seems too daunting. I hope to supplement this (someday) with that, and with Ken Burns’s documentary about the Civil War.

Synopsis: “James McPherson’s fast-paced narrative fully integrates the political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades from the outbreak of one war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. Packed with drama and analytical insight, the book vividly recounts the momentous episodes that preceded the Civil War including the Dred Scott decision, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry. From there it moves into a masterful chronicle of the war itself–the battles, the strategic maneuvering by each side, the politics, and the personalities. Particularly notable are McPherson’s new views on such matters as the slavery expansion issue in the 1850s, the origins of the Republican Party, the causes of secession, internal dissent and anti-war opposition in the North and the South, and the reasons for the Union’s victory.

The book’s title refers to the sentiments that informed both the Northern and Southern views of the conflict. The South seceded in the name of that freedom of self-determination and self-government for which their fathers had fought in 1776, while the North stood fast in defense of the Union founded by those fathers as the bulwark of American liberty. Eventually, the North had to grapple with the underlying cause of the war, slavery, and adopt a policy of emancipation as a second war aim. This “new birth of freedom,” as Lincoln called it, constitutes the proudest legacy of America’s bloodiest conflict.

This authoritative volume makes sense of that vast and confusing “second American Revolution” we call the Civil War, a war that transformed a nation and expanded our heritage of liberty.”

 

 
colorsofcourageThe Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History: Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle, by Margaret S. Creighton. After reading Gone with the Wind, I am interested in the historical perspective this book offers in regards to these same people who populated Mitchell’s novel, and then some.

Synopsis: “In the summer of 1863, as Union and Confederate armies converged on southern Pennsylvania, the town of Gettysburg found itself thrust onto the center stage of war. The three days of fighting that ensued decisively turned the tide of the Civil War. In The Colors of Courage, Margaret Creighton narrates the tale of this crucial battle from the viewpoint of three unsung groups–women, immigrants, and African Americans–and reveals how wide the conflict’s dimensions were. A historian with a superb flair for storytelling, Creighton draws on memoirs, letters, diaries, and newspapers to bring to life the individuals at the heart of her narrative. The Colors of Courage is a stunningly fluid work of original history-one that redefines the Civil War’s most remarkable battle.”
 

 

 

Fiction

redbadgeThe Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane. No, I’ve never read it, okay? No comments. My area was 18th Century British, after all. Please. 

Synopsis: “First published in 1895, America’s greatest novel  of the Civil War was written before 21-year-old  Stephen Crane had “smelled even the powder of a  sham battle.” But this powerful psychological  study of a young soldier’s struggle with the  horrors, both within and without, that war strikes the  reader with its undeniable realism and with its  masterful descriptions of the moment-by-moment riot  of emotions felt by me under fire. Ernest  Hemingway called the novel an American classic, and  Crane’s genius is as much apparent in his sharp,  colorful prose as in his ironic portrayal of an episode  of war so intense, so immediate, so real that the  terror of battle becomes our own … in a  masterpiece so unique that many believe modern American  fiction began with Stephen Crane.”

 

 

 

 

killerangelsThe Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara. A Pulitzer winner! A movie–Gettysburg! Never saw it! Doh.

Synposis: “Detailing the events around four days in late June and early July, 1863, the story follows four men as they march into the field for what will become the bloodiest three days in American history. Robert E. Lee leads the Confederate troops on an invasion of Pennsylvania, believing it is the only way the South can still force Washington to accept peace, and a Southern victory. By his side, James “Pete” Longstreet does not share Lee’s optimism, and understands that this great fight could be the South’s Waterloo. On the Northern side, Cavalry General John Buford is the man on the spot, and heroically holds Lee’s army back while the rest of the Union troops move into position on the valuable and crucial high ground of Cemetery Ridge. Leading a regiment to the far end of the line, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is told he must hold the flank, that his small command is the key to the entire Union position. Ordering his men to dig in, waiting for the inevitable assault from Longstreet’s troops, the former college professor realizes that this is his destiny, commanding soldiers on a hill known as Little Round Top.”

 

 

oldestconfedwidowOldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, by Alan Gurganus. My mother kept loaning me this book, but I never got around to reading it. This one is supposed to be quite funny, and after all that war, one needs a little laughter.

Synopsis: “Allan Gurganus’s Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All became an instant classic upon its publication. Critics and readers alike fell in love with the voice of ninety-nine-year-old Lucy Marsden, one of the most entertaining and loquacious heoines in American literature. Lucy married at the turn of the last century, when she was fifteen and her husband was fifty. If Colonel William Marsden was a veteran of the “War for Southern Independence,” Lucy became a “veteran of the veteran” with a unique perspective on Southern history and Southern manhood. Her story encompasses everything from the tragic death of a Confederate boy soldier to the feisty narrator’s daily battles in the Home–complete with visits from a mohawk-coiffed candy-striper. Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is proof that brilliant, emotional storytelling remains at the heart of great fiction.”

*all images from powells.com